I am a sucker for travelogues, especially the kind where intrepid travelers set off for an adventure in a foreign land (like this story about a Brit who walks around Baja California.) Parts of this story were terrific, but the author’s tone was too smug for my tastes (albeit an understated smug). How clever he and his wife were to be fearlessly traveling the roads in 1930s Mexico without caring about bandits. How wonderful to bump into John Steinbeck a few times. How precious to be given the grand tour by Diego Rivera and then dine with Frida (oh, but see the Indian blood run strong in Diego). How wonderful that his letters of introduction gained him access to one of the remaining haciendas that hadn’t been broken up by the dirty evil communists. They survive a landslide taking out the road (bravely, intrepidly!, crossing a perilous six foot wide strip along a gorge), and reach Mexico City, where they stayed with a family for the next month, making day or weekend trips out to various towns, usually during market day where they’re amazed at the persistence of salespeople to haggle with them. Yes, they are so clever to have avoided the usual tourist traps, only visiting the shrine of Guadalupe on accident as they peeled out of Mexico City headed back to the States. Some classic descriptions of Mexican food, explaining what tacos are:
A taco can be a lot of things; a stopper or stopple, for example, a popgun or a billiard cue, an almanac pad (of all things), a “spruce young fellow or dandy”, or a volley of oaths. But it can also mean “light luncheon”, and hence, by extension, the dish we had that night. Its most necessary part is a tortilla, toasted but not too hard. In this semi-crisp binding is rolled almost anything, so long as lettuce and tomato are included.
The author makes a social blunder while relating the story of the Man From Detroit who didn’t like Taxco:
This gentleman, being irritated at the artiness of Taxco and well briago after too many fizzy rum drinks, had gathered to him a small army of little boys and taught them at the cost of ten centavos apiece to chant the slogan, “Taxco Mucho Stinko!”, thereafter leading them about town and producing the cheer at such strategic points as the bus stop and the center of the main plaza.
Most of my irritation is at the offhanded way he paints himself and his wife as being so liberal and tolerant. “Forget, if you have it, the notion that Mexico is full of dangerous, slinking brown people with a grudge against Americans.” And his observation, “Learn some Spanish. You won’t need much.”
Reco’d by the Neglected Books page, next time I will be more careful about taking Readers’ Choice recs.